Two stars: one for my being able to get through the whole of it, another for my not feeling like stopping ( not enough to actually stop reading ).
But otherwise, this ( written 1999 ) is one of his poorest works to date. 'Darwinia', the previous work by this author, was genuinely fantastic in a classic M. P. Shiel sort of way, even if downbeat & depressing. But this one is mainly just depressing.
The plot and content is easily summed up by saying, 'It should have been called "Solaris-Predator Outbreak"' since it mixes concepts from those works. There's a planet ( named Isis ) with life forms on it . . . . and all of them are hostile to Earth life. Microbiologically in the main, rather than predatorily as in Harry Harrison's 'Deathworld'. A neat concept at first . . . . why would we find an alien planet's life compatible by and large, as in optimistic pre-60s works like Heinlein's 'Time For The Stars' -?
So, this planet's sheer poison. It's kind of new, but another thing's new too: Why do Earth people even bother with it?!? Why don't they just quarantine it and find a better one elsewhere? Wilson doesn't make that comprehensible, though at one point there's mention of... well, some excuse that we never hear about at all elsewhere.
And the plot progresses steadily ( and dully, after a few chapters ) to its climax. It's true that the human drama is pretty good & convincing . . . despite the way that the heroine's intellectual preparation (if any!) for her mission is completely left out... Did she have to be trained? apparently not at all. Odd.
There's plot holes / sloppy writing: Esp. a matter of "several minutes" turning into "an hour" on the next page, and soon after, "seven hours" are mentioned, for a task that a brisker author could conceivably, with full credibility, have alotted 5 or 10 minutes to. And, in the somewhat flat and B-movie-ish ending, another oddity: the plants from Earth never seem to have been affected by disease . . . despite the fact that they (plants) have no immune systems that I ever heard of [maybe I'm wrong? if so, tell me!], and can easily wither up and die of wilt, bacterial blight, or viral mosaic disease in a very short time. Even right here on Earth. Yet the plants in the station where all the people died of the Outbreak of alien disease, seem to have survived quite nicely. So, lifeforms on the planet Isis only minds it if you're a Terrestrial animal, but plants are OK? Ugh.
Robert Charles Wilson is a talented author, but let's hope he does better. A change has been noticeable lately in his plots: His hero typically underwent a journey of danger but liberation, and ultimately, some hopefulness. Lately his typical hero ( or heroine ) just suffers . . . .
Good science fiction never gives up hope! See a quip near the end of 'The Star Fox' if you don't believe me on that.
Not the worst, but we could look for better.
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